Dioxin is a toxic chemical that, when present in the environment, can cause cancer and birth defects in humans. Dioxin is of particular concern because concentrations of dioxin that were released into the environment many years ago remain a contributing factor to current exposure. Dioxin exposure often occurs in surface-water systems downstream from contaminated sites and is detrimental to aquatic life. For these reasons and because the U.S. Geological Survey has expertise in conducting high-volume dioxin sampling, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of North Carolina asked the U.S. Geological Survey to collect water samples in the lower Roanoke River to be analyzed for the presence of dioxin.
Water quality of the lower Roanoke River Basin in North Carolina was assessed at eight sites during February 26-March 7, 2001. Water- quality samples were collected for analysis of suspended-sediment and dioxin concentrations; high-volume (750-liter) water samples were collected for dioxin analysis. Discharge measurements were made at or near the high-volume sampling sites. Suspended-sediment sampling and water-quality measurements of specific conductance, pH, water temperature, and dissolved-oxygen concentrations made at each sampling site included multidepth measurements at two cross-section transects and hourly measurements at the point of high-volume sampling. Multidepth measurements were made near the surface, mid-depth, and near the bottom of the water column. These values were averaged for each cross section.
During the sampling period, all sites sampled had dioxin concentrations above detection limits (1 part per quintillion) for both suspended and dissolved dioxin. Suspended dioxin ranged from 5.1 to 900 femtograms per liter, and dissolved dioxin values ranged from 0.31 to 41 femtograms per liter. Suspended-sediment concentrations ranged from 1.1 to 14 milligrams per liter. Specific conductance values ranges from 111 to 340 microsiemens per centimeter at 25 degrees Celsius. The range of pH values at the sampling sites was from 6.6 to 7.7. Water temperatures ranged from 8.9 to 13 degrees Celsius. Dissolved-oxygen concentrations ranged from 7.3 to 10.9 milligrams per liter.